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With reinvention of mall, nearby area, Anderson Township will finally have a downtown of sorts

New eateries, entertainment, place to hang out
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Jan 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-23 09:13:27-05

CINCINNATI -- Anderson Township, which never had a downtown per se, is not too far from calling Beechmont Avenue and Five Mile Road its city center.

Credit the redevelopment of the Anderson Towne Center, formerly Beechmont Mall, which is reinventing itself by creating streetscapes with stores, entertainment destinations and restaurants.

The downtown is a little bigger than that. It would stretch from the 10-year-old Anderson Center, where the township offices are located on Five Mile, to the area at Beechmont and Wolfgangel Road, which used to be home to car dealerships.

But it's been the rethinking the old mall concept that makes it possible.

The idea is based on the old theory, “Don't put all your eggs in one basket.” Instead of a traditional mall, as was popular in the 1970s, the township is offering a spot for community interaction and a place to hang out.

"Anderson Township has always been a great bedroom community with wonderful neighbors," said Josh Gerth, president of the Anderson Township board of trustees. "But some have considered Beechmont an eyesore."

Paul Drury, director of planning and zoning, Anderson Township, said officials are basically creating a downtown space for what originally was a rural community.

"The grander vision was to build a center of the community," said Drury. "It started with this building (Anderson Center, where the township government is housed). We wanted to create a downtown and expand for civic uses (and) entertainment, improve the quality of life."

The closing of a Kmart on one end and the loss of car dealerships on the other opened the door for development and reinvention.

The opening of the Ovation Theater 9 Grill in early January at the center is a piece of the entertainment the township wants. Add to that Crunch fitness center and Skyzone, an indoor trampoline park coming soon, plus an entertainment space near Kroger, and the mix is starting to take shape.

Steve Sievers, township assistant administrator for operations, said office space is part of the mix, not to mention retail. A new parking garage is a part of the office mix, as well.

Officials are happy that Macy's is staying at the Towne Center, despite other closures nationwide. "We know sales-wise, it does well. If it ever left, it would be a big loss," said Sievers.

Even though the economic impact might not happen immediately, township officials see paybacks in the form of the existing special taxing district and increasing property values in the area.

Anderson, like most Ohio townships, does not assess income tax. So the benefit from the improved development also will come from improved property taxes at the Anderson Towne Center and nearby businesses on Five Mile Road and Beechmont Avenue, said Gerth.

Sievers said the local restaurants, as well as the chain restaurants, are something Anderson residents want: They want to drive five or 10 minutes to eat and socialize instead of driving further and dealing with Downtown Cincinnati parking, he said.

“We’ve been trying to create a downtown area for a while now,” said Gerth. “What we've tried to do is capture the heart of our community,” including Beechmont and Five Mile Road. He includes the Anderson Towne Center, the area that includes City Hall and the additions at Mercy Health — Anderson Township.

And so far, the community loves the change. Ovation Theater Grill 9 opened in early January, and Gerth said he's heard a lot of feedback.

"I've never had more positive feedback than about the movie theater,” he said.

The repaving of Towne Center Road, which leads from the Anderson Center to a back entrance to the movie theater and shopping, give consumers more options to enter and leave the mall area. 

Sievers said there are sill a few spots open in the new Anderson Towne Center, "but the owners don't see it as the end. They see a future of this continuing. We're trying to add as much activity to the site as possible," he said.

Parking was expanded to handle daytime park-and-ride users, with the space being available on evenings and weekends for the theater, shopping and restaurants.

The Georgia-based owner, Victory Investment, did not return phone calls about the project. Kathleen Wagoner, a member of the township's Betterment and Beautification Committee and a local Realtor for Sibcy-Cline, said retail and entertainment are what residents have asked for. They also want walkability, now reflected in the streetscape at the Towne Center.

Residential space is the one missing item, but Wagoner said it's possible in the future as the township works to improve the mix of housing in Anderson.

Still not completed is the 50,000-square-foot expansion of the Kroger store that includes a smaller development to take advantage of Beechmont Avenue's street view. Kroger's street-front development, to be called the Shoppes of Anderson Towne Center, will include more local restaurants, including Currito, The Eagle and McAlister's Deli, all expected to open in fall 2017.